Michigan coach Brady Hoke didn't back down when asked about his comment that Notre Dame is "chickening out" of its rivalry with the Wolverines, which is due to end after the teams meet in South Bend in 2014.
"It's nothing against Brian Kelly, it's nothing against their kids," Hoke said emphatically at Big Ten Media Day in Chicago. "That started in 1887, it's a great rivalry for football, for college football on a national scale. I know Brian didn't make that decision, neither did the players on that team."
In May, Hoke told a crowd of fans in Grand Rapids, Mich.: "The Notre Dame game, that rivalry, which they're chickening out of -- they're still going to play Michigan State, they're going to play Purdue, but they don't want to play Michigan. I don't know how they made that decision. I really don't."
Notre Dame opted out of its series with Michigan in September soon after agreeing to play five games against ACC opponents, citing a need to understand how the deal will affect future schedules. The school is having ongoing conversations on all future schedules and the Purdue and Michigan State series are not safe, though they haven't been cut yet.
Michigan players stood by their coach, and don't think the "chickening out" comment will materialize into bulletin-board material for the Irish given the intense nature of the rivalry.
"I fully support my coach," quarterback Devin Gardner said. "If that's how he feels, his feeling will rub off on the team. But we're going to compete, whether he said that or not, the same way. We're going to compete hard, and it's just a little extra that this is the last game (in Ann Arbor). It's unfortunate for such a big-time college rivalry to end like this. But it has to -- not on our account, though."
Notre Dame plays Michigan on Sept. 7 under the lights in Ann Arbor in both team's second game of the year. The Irish's last visit to Michigan Stadium resulted in an epic, heartbreaking loss, which spring boarded Michigan to a Sugar Bowl berth while Notre Dame went 8-5. Last year in South Bend, Notre Dame won a turnover-laced game and made the BCS Championship, while Michigan fell to South Carolina in the Outback Bowl.
It's another intense college football rivalry that'll go away thanks to conference expansion and realignment, joining Texas-Texas A&M and Missouri-Kansas. Michigan safety Thomas Gordon is among those disappointed the players who come after him won't get an annual chance to play the Irish.
"Yeah, that kind of sucks," he said. "I think it's bad for college football to miss out on that rivalry. It's been a part of the game so much. And that's been like a measuring stick game to play a big national team like that at the beginning of the season. We're going to miss it, for sure. But it is how it is."